The Green Ray/Chapter XI
OLIVER SINCLAIR. 
Oliver Sinclair was a “bonnie lad,” to make use of a Scotch expression, in speaking of a gallant, sprightly youth. The last scion of a good Edinburgh family, this young Athenian of the Athens of the north was the son of an old councillor in this capital. Early left an orphan, he had been brought up by an uncle, one of the four baillies of the municipal administration, had made good use of his time at the University, and at the age of twenty, being possessor of a small independent fortune, and wishing to see something of the world, he visited the principal states of Europe, India, and America; the celebrated Edinburgh Review now and again published notes of his travels. Being an accomplished artist, he might have sold his pictures at a high price, had he liked. He was also a poet, when the whim took him, and who is not, at an age when all existence smiles upon one?—warm-hearted, and of an artistic nature, he was made to please, and this he did without effort or affectation on his part.
It would have been an easy matter for him to have found a wife in Edinburgh, where an accomplished, amiable, well-bred young man, with a handsome person, could not fail to find more than one heiress to his liking.
And yet Oliver Sinclair, at the age of twenty-six, did not appear to have felt any inclination to change his state. Was it that the path of life seemed too narrow for two to walk together? Not so; but likely enough he thought himself better able, as a single man, to indulge his tastes for art and travel.
Nevertheless, Oliver Sinclair might well have inspired any fair daughter of Scotland with more than ordinary liking. His elegant figure, his frank countenance, his manly yet gentle bearing and cheerful manners, made him altogether a fascinating character; but being no coxcomb, this fact had never occurred to him, or else he had never felt inclined to matrimony. Moreover, if he were calculated to inspire admiration among the ladies of Edinburgh, he was none the less liked by his friends at the University, and was one of those who, according to the old saying, never turned his back on friend or foe.
And yet, to-day, it must be admitted that he was turning his back upon Miss Campbell, who, it is true, was neither friend nor foe. In that position he had been unable to see the ball, which the young girl had so vigorously discharged; hence the disastrous effect on his canvas, and the overthrow of all his apparatus.
At the first glance, Miss Campbell had recognized her hero of the Coryvrechan; but the hero did not in the least recognize the young passenger of the Glengary. It was scarcely likely that during the journey from Scarba to Oban, he had even seen Miss Campbell on board. Most certainly had he known the part she had personally taken in his rescue, were it only out of politeness, he would have thanked her; but he was as yet unaware of that fact, and probably would always remain so.
Indeed, that very day, Miss Campbell forbade, yes, positively forbade, her uncles as well as Dame Bess and Partridge, to make any allusion, before this young man, to what had taken place on board the Glengary before the rescue.
Meanwhile, after the accident, the brothers had rejoined their niece, more vexed if possible than she, and they began to offer the young artist their personal apologies, when he interrupted them, saying,—
“Gentlemen, I beg you—it is really not worth mentioning!”
“But sir,” persisted Sib, “we are deeply grieved.”
“And if the disaster is irreparable, as we fear it is—” added Sam.
“It is a mere trifle,” replied the young man, smiling. “A daub, nothing more, to which this avenging ball did fit justice!”
Oliver Sinclair said this with so much good-humour that the brothers would willingly have shaken hands with him without further ceremony; at any rate they thought it only polite to introduce themselves.
“Mr. Samuel Melville,” said one.
“Mr. Sebastian Melville,” said the other.
“And their niece, Miss Campbell,” added Helena, who considered it no breach of etiquette to introduce herself.
This was an invitation to the young man to state his name.
“Miss Campbell, and gentlemen,” said he, as seriously as possible, “I may tell you that I call myself ‘post,’ after one of your croquet-sticks, since I have been a mark for your ball; but my name is really Oliver Sinclair.”
“Mr. Sinclair,” replied Miss Campbell, who hardly knew how to take this answer, “please accept my apologies.”
“And ours too,” added the brothers.
“I assure you, Miss Campbell,” replied Oliver Sinclair, “it is not worth mentioning. I was trying to get an effect of the foam on the waves, and it is probable that your ball, like the sponge of—I forget what painter of antiquity, thrown across his picture, will have produced the effect which my brush was trying in vain to render.”
This was said so amiably that Miss Campbell and her uncles could hardly help smiling.
But as to the canvas which Oliver Sinclair picked up, it was quite spoilt, and the work must be begun afresh.
We may as well observe that Aristobulus did not trouble himself to add his apologies.
The game over, the young savant, highly annoyed at being unable to make his practical ability accord with his theoretical knowledge, had returned to his hotel.
They would probably not see him for two or three days, as he was going to Luing Island, one of the smallest of the Hebrides, situated to the south of the isle of Seil, and the rich slate quarries of which he wanted to study from a geological point of view.
Thus their conversation was carried on without any interruption in the way of explanatory remarks, which he would have been sure to make, on the tension of trajectories or other questions relative to the accident.
Oliver Sinclair soon found that he was not altogether unknown to the visitors of the Caledonian Hotel, and he then learnt that they were acquainted with the incidents of the passage.
“What!” exclaimed he, “were you really on board the Glengary, which fished me up so luckily?”
“Yes, Mr. Sinclair.”
“And you frightened us nicely,” added Sib, “when, by the greatest chance, we saw your boat among the breakers of the Coryvrechan.”
“A most providential chance,” added Sam; “and probably had it not been for the interposition of—”
Here Miss Campbell made her uncle understand by a sign that she did not intend to pose as a deliverer, nor would she accept that rôle at any price.
“But, Mr. Sinclair,” continued Sam, “how could the old seaman, who was with you, have been imprudent enough to venture so near the gulf—”
“The danger of which he must well have known, since he belonged to this part of the country?” added Sib.
“You must not blame him, gentlemen,” replied Oliver Sinclair; “it was entirely my imprudence, mine alone, and at one time I thought I should have to reproach myself with being the cause of the honest fellow's death! But there were such wondrous colours on the surface of the eddies where the sea looked like an immense piece of guipure lace thrown over blue silk, that, without giving another thought as to probable danger, I set out in search of some new shade of colour in the midst of these waters, impregnated with light, and so I went on, and on! The old fisherman, knowing the danger, remonstrated with me, and wanted to turn back towards Jura, but I scarcely listened to him; and at last our boat was caught by the tide, and irresistibly drawn towards the gulf. We made every effort to clear ourselves. A heavy sea disabled my companion, and left him powerless to help me, and certainly, had it not been for the timely arrival of the Glengary, the skill of her captain, and humanity of the passengers, the fisherman and I would soon have passed into the legendary state, and would be included in the obituary of the Coryvrechan!”
Miss Campbell listened without saying a word, and now and then raised her beautiful eyes on the speaker, who did not embarrass her by returning her glance. She could not help smiling when he spoke of his chase, or rather of his fishing for marine tints. Was she not also engaged in a search somewhat less perilous, at the same time, the search for a celestial tint, the pursuit of the Green Ray?
The brothers could not refrain from mentioning the motive which had brought them to Oban, which was in fact the observation of the physical phenomenon, the nature of which they did their best to explain to the young artist.
“The Green Ray!” exclaimed Oliver Sinclair.
“Have you already seen it?” quickly asked the young girl. “Have you already seen it?”
“No, Miss Campbell, I never even knew that such a ray was to be seen. No, in truth, but now I am all anxiety to see it, and the sun shall not set again without having me for witness! By St. Dunstan, I will not draw another stroke till I have seen the colour of its last ray!”
It was difficult to know whether Oliver Sinclair spoke in jest or earnest, or if he were merely giving vent to artistic enthusiasm. At the same time Miss Campbell had a kind of presentiment that the young man was not joking.
“Mr. Sinclair,” she resumed, “the Green Ray is not my particular property! it shines for every one, and loses nothing of its value because more than one see it at the same time! If you like, we might try and see it together.”
“Most willingly. Miss Campbell.”
“But you will have to be very patient.”
“We will be perfect models—”
“And not be afraid of hurting your eyesight,” said Sam.
“The Green Ray is well worth that risk,” replied Sinclair; “and I promise you I will not leave Oban till I have seen it.”
“We have already been once to the island of Seil to observe this ray,” said Miss Campbell, “but a little cloud hid the horizon just as the sun was setting.”
“Unfortunate indeed, Mr. Sinclair, for since that evening the sky has never been clear enough for us.”
“We shall have more fine evenings yet, Miss Campbell. The summer is not over, and before the bad weather comes on, believe me, the sun will have the charity to show us his Green Ray.”
“To tell the truth, Mr. Sinclair,” continued Miss Campbell, “we should certainly have seen it on the evening of the 2nd of August, just on the horizon of the Coryvrechan Straits, had not our attention been distracted by a certain rescue.”
“Indeed, Miss Campbell,” replied Sinclair; “alas! that I should have been unfortunate enough to divert your attention at such a moment! My imprudence cost you the sight of the Green Ray! Then it is I who must humbly apologize to you, and assure you of my regret for my inopportune interference. It shall not happen again.”
And thus they talked of one thing and another on their way back to the Caledonian Hotel, where Oliver Sinclair happened to have taken rooms the previous evening on his return from an excursion to the environs of Dalmally. The young gentleman, whose frank and lively manner by no means displeased the brothers—far from it—was then led to speak of Edinburgh and of his uncle, the Baillie Patrick Oldimer, whom it happened that the brothers had known for many years, distance alone having suspended the acquaintance between the two families.
Thus they felt perfectly at home with each other, and Oliver Sinclair was invited to renew friendship with the Melvilles. As he had no reason for leaving Oban, he declared himself more ready than ever to remain and join in the search for the famous ray.
It happened after this that Miss Campbell and her uncles frequently met him on the beach; they made observations on the weather together, and ten times a day looked at the barometer, which showed some feeble signs of rising; in fact, on the morning of the 14th of August the amiable instrument was more propitious than ever.
With what delight Oliver Sinclair, that day, brought the news to Miss Campbell. A sky pure as the eye of a Madonna, an azure vault, which shaded off from deep indigo to ultramarine, with not the slightest haze to be seen anywhere, gave prospect of a splendid evening, and a sunset which would have entranced any astronomer!
“If we do not see our ray at sunset,” said Oliver Sinclair, “it will be because we are blind.”
“Uncles,” replied Miss Campbell, “you quite understand we are to go this evening?”
It was then agreed that they should set out before dinner for the island of Seil, which accordingly they did about five o'clock.
The carriage took them along the picturesque road to Glachan; Miss Campbell radiant with delight, Oliver Sinclair in high spirits, and the brothers partaking of the general good-humour. One would have thought that they were taking the sun with them in their carriage, and that the four horses drawing them were the hippogriffs of Apollo's chariot!
Having reached the island of Seil, the enthusiastic observers found an horizon without the slightest obstacle to mar its purity. They went and seated themselves at the extreme end of a narrow headland which separated two creeks along the coast and jutted a mile into the sea.
“At last we are going to catch this capricious ray which is so chary about letting itself be seen!” said Sinclair.
“I believe so—” replied Sam.
“I am certain of it—” added Sib.
“And for my part, I hope so,” said Miss Campbell, looking at the clear sea and cloudless sky.
In fact, everything seemed to predict that at sunset the phenomenon would show itself in all its splendour.
Already the sinking sun was but a few degrees above the horizon; its crimson disk tinged the western sky with ruddy light, and cast a long train of dazzling brightness over the peaceful waters.
Silently waiting for the apparition, and as though entranced by the close of this glorious day, they watched the sun as it slowly sank like a ball of fire. All at once an involuntary cry escaped Miss Campbell, and it was followed by an anxious exclamation, which neither the brothers nor Oliver Sinclair could repress.
A sailing-boat doubled the island of Easdale, lying at the foot of Seil, and slowly made towards the west, its sail spread like a screen, extended above the horizon. Would it hide the sun just as its orb dipped beneath the waves?
It was a matter of seconds. There was no time to turn back or run in either direction, in order to see the point of contact; the narrowness of the headland would not allow a sufficient angle to permit them to get any other view of the sun.
Miss Campbell, in despair at this contretemps, ran to-and-fro on the rocks; Sinclair made frantic gestures to the occupants of the boat, and shouted to them to take in their sail.
But all in vain! They neither saw nor heard him. A light breeze, aided by the tide, was carrying the boat steadily towards the west.
Just as the upper rim of the sun's disk was about to disappear, the boat passed in front of it and quite hid it behind its opaque sail.
Vain expectation! This time the Green Ray had been launched from a cloudless horizon, but had been intercepted by the sail before it could reach the promontory, from which so many eyes were anxiously watching.
Miss Campbell, Oliver Sinclair, and the brothers, intensely disappointed, and more irritated perhaps than this mischance warranted, stood as if petrified, forgetting even to move away, as they anathematized the boat and her occupants.
Meanwhile, this unlucky boat had come into a small bay in the island of Seil, at the very foot of the promontory, and at this moment a passenger landed from it, leaving on board two sailors who had brought him from Luing Island; then he walked along the beach and climbed the rocks, in order to reach the summit of the point.
Evidently the intruder must have recognized the group of observers standing on the plateau, for he bowed to them familiarly.
“Mr. Ursiclos!” exclaimed Miss Campbell.
“He! can it be he?” cried her two uncles.
“And who may this gentleman be?” said Oliver Sinclair to himself.
It was indeed Aristobulus in person, who was returning after a scientific tour of some days from the island of Luing.
How he was received by those, whose dearest wish he had just succeeded in frustrating, need not be told here.
The brothers, forgetting all etiquette, never even thought of introducing him to Oliver Sinclair. In presence of Helena's discomfiture, they paid little attention to the suitor of their choice.
Miss Campbell, with her little hands clenched, her arms crossed on her breast, and her eyes sparkling with indignation, looked at him without saying a word. Then at last these words escaped her,—
“Mr. Ursiclos, you should have known better than to have played us such a trick!”